Thursday, September 16, 2010


I couldn't come up with a better title for this post than the one that Hannah Storm and Lisa Lax and Nancy Stern Winters gave to the story of friendship which they produced for ESPN's 30 For 30 series.  If you ever doubted that sports is about more than the athletic performance alone, one of these films might just convince you to rethink your position.  Have you wondered why I wax eloquent over something I've never done nor ever could do nor want to do and can only understand from an outsider's perspective?  It's because of the people. 

I am haunted by sports stories more than by disasters or theatrics or politics.  Unmatched (careful if you are at work, there's a loud commercial as the video begins) has just added another layer to the cake full of scripts that rattles around in my head when I'm thinking about nothing.  Do you ever go to that place, denizens?  Your body is purposefully engaged in an activity which requires nothing more than the most minimal engagement on your part - trolling the aisles of a familiar grocery store purchasing the same items as usual, walking from the bus stop to your apartment after work, waiting in the carpool lane for the bell to ring at 3:12pm - and your mind is free to wander in the back rooms of memory, stumbling across a trunk full of perfect games and missteps and graciousness and victory with a twist and opening it with a smile.  

Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova are my age, give or take a year or two.   I remember watching Chrissie on television in the early 1970's and for the first time feeling that I was behind, that I was old enough to be accomplishing something.  Martina, 2 years younger than Chris, was the first woman to show me that muscles were sexy, in an I can do anything kind of way.  Beyond that, I don't think that I paid much attention to their rivalry or to their lives in general.  I knew that one or the other was #1, that Chris got married and divorced and married and that Martina came out and that one or the other won a championship.  I never stopped to think about their lives together.  Then I watched the show.

Unmatched is reality television at its very very best.  A camera followed them around for a day or two, barefoot on super comfy cotton covered couches, top-down in Martina's convertible,  hanging on the stools in the kitchen, running under the turning leaves.... all the things that girlfriends who haven't seen each other in a while do.  Whether it's been a week or a year, there's no lag, no awkward pauses, you just pick up where you left off and everything is easy.  Apparently, while the rest of us were watching the surface, the athletics, the competition, Chris and Martina were having a friendship.  They hit balls together, they traveled together, they had dinner together, they laughed at each other's foibles and appreciated the other's strengths.  

They are brutally honest with one another, and that honesty is based on a lifetime of respect.
Listen to the words, but watch their faces, too.  When was the last time you said thank you to a friend?  Watch this clip til the end; it might just inspire you.

Watching the two of them last night I was reminded, once again, of how important my old friends are to me.  They have seen me at my best and at my worst.  We, like Chris and Martina, remember each other's stories often better than we remember our own.  We are caretakers and problem solvers and, as they nodded to each other in the car, "Definitely there for you, in a heartbeat."  There's nothing better than that.

There's admiration and respect for the game and the parts they each played.  Over 80 meetings they each ended up with 18 championships.  They pushed each other and drove each other and sometimes a streak would last for a long long time.  But they needed one another and fed off one another and really appreciated one another.  Listen:

One final thought.  I don't remember which of them said it, but it really doesn't matter.  Like the best of friends, sometimes:
In the beginning, especially, we had nothing in common........ but we had everything in common.
 This is why I like sports.

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